Jurisdiction the court has always held, is the life wire of judicial proceedings. Right from the establishment of this principle in Madukolu v Nkemdilim, the principle is still strongly applied by the court.
The issue of jurisdiction can be raised at anytime in a proceeding. However, this has to do more with Substantive jurisdiction . It’s to be noted that jurisdiction Can either be Substantive or Procedural. Substantive jurisdiction is the type that affects the subject matter or even the jurisdiction of the court. It should be noted that this type of jurisdiction, when raised, will amount to a striking out of the claims for want of jurisdiction. This type can be raised at any time in a proceeding, including at the point of appeal. However, the second type which is procedural jurisdiction includes pre-trial notice, issue of statute bar or res judicata has to be brought timeously and specifically contained in pleadings, otherwise,they are deemed waived.
The Labour Act, section 80 provided for the court that has jurisdiction in respect of issues arising from Labour and industrial relations.
Section 80(1) of the Labour Act provided that the Magistrate court shall have jurisdiction to settle trade disputes or a District court in areas where the Magistrate court does not have civil jurisdiction. Section 80(2) further provided that the Chief Judge of a state may confer jurisdiction on Area courts or Customary courts in the state or part of the state.
This section of the labour Act is clear and should be interpreted literally. By interpreting it, one would understand that the Act set to give to the Magistrate and/or District court the power to settle labour dispute. It even further empowers the chief judge of a state,with concurrence of the state authority, the power to confer jurisdiction on the Area and/or Customary court in a state or part of the state.
This is clearly in conflict with section 7 of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria Act (2006) and section 254(C) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) which both confers on the National Industrial Court the power to settle disputes arising from employer-employee relationship and other trade-related disputes.
The Labour Act and the National Industrial Court of Nigeria Act are both Federal enactments. Since, the National Industrial Court Act which came latter in time did not expressly repeal the provisions of the Labour Act regarding the jurisdiction, no doubt, there will be difficulty in ascertaining which is to have jurisdiction to entertain Labour disputes. However, it is recommended that in the face of this conflict, the National Industrial Court Act which is obviously latter in time should be applied.
The provision of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended is in tandem with the provisions of the National industrial Court of Nigeria Act in respect of jurisdiction. Thus, the Constitution which is the grundnorm, vests on the National Industrial court the power to settle labour and trade disputes.
This means that section 80 of the Labour Act is not just inconsistent with section 7 of the National Industrial Court of Nigeria Act but also with section 254(C) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.
Section 1(1) of the 1999 CFRN provides for the supremacy of the Constitution over every other enactment, persons and bodies. Section 1(3),1999 CFRN saves the supremacy clause and further provides that if any law is inconsistent with the provisions of the Constitution, the provisions of the Constitution shall prevail and that other law to the extent of inconsistency be void. Applying the Consistency Rule which requires all laws to be in conformity with the provisions of the Constitution, the provisions of section 80 of the Labour Act and other related sections cannot stand. Also, applying the principle of Existing laws which requires all laws that existed before the coming of the Constitution to continue to exist to the extent of their consistency with the provisions of the Constitution, these aforementioned section(s) of the Labour Act still can’t stand.
Assuming without conceding that the provision of the labour Act vesting jurisdiction of trade disputes on Magistrate/District court stands, it should be noted that these are not one of the superior courts set out in Section 6(5) of the 1999 CFRN as amended. Also, the Magistrate /District courts are to be created by states that want them. So, would it mean that the ends of justice will not be reached in states that didn’t create the Magistrate and/or District courts?
In conclusion, it is recommended that the 50-year old Labour Act be reviewed and amended to be in tandem with the provisions of the Almighty Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria in respect of the court that has jurisdiction to hear trade related disputes.
About the Author
Okpara Matthew is a student of faculty of law, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Anambra State. He is a legal researcher and author.
For knowledge and Justice